David Harris and Leanne Longstaff
David Harris with his sister Leanne Longstaff (Image: Supplied)

An inquest into the circumstances leading up to the death of David Harris, who died shortly after his National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding was cut off, will be launched following an investigation by Inq.

Harris lived with paranoid schizophrenia and diabetes in community housing in Sydney’s west. The 55-year-old had complex needs with care provided by community mental health teams for most of his life.

But when he transitioned onto the NDIS in early 2019, Harris was expected to advocate for his own care and expected to schedule workers to help him with day-to-day living.

People with schizophrenia often don’t understand that they are ill, and can become socially isolated and withdrawn. It’s unclear when Harris’ NDIS workers stopped visiting him.

His NDIS funding was cut off in the days or weeks before his death after Harris stopped responding to calls and letters.

Harris’ body wasn’t discovered for around two months after his death and was so decomposed a coroner couldn’t determine an exact time or cause of death. 

Harris’ sister and disability advocate Leanne Longfellow lives in South Australia with her daughter who also has multiple disabilities. She was horrified to learn about her younger brother’s death. Since July last year, she has been fighting for answers with the help from lawyers funded through Legal Aid. 

She hopes the inquest, announced 17 months after his body was discovered, will help prevent others from falling through the cracks in the system.

“The main reason I want an inquest is to examine what went wrong to stop this from happening again,” she told Inq.

“Secondly, I want to ensure the legal processes available to non-disabled people are equally available to disabled people.” 

The inquest, she added, validated her concerns that something went wrong in her brother’s care. 

“It’s been so hard getting someone to say that there was a problem with the system, and I felt, in the beginning, his death wasn’t taken very seriously,” she said. 

“I think it will give me closure.”

Shortly after Inq‘s investigation was published, shadow minister for the NDIS Bill Shorten sent out a press release about Harris’ death. The story was then picked up by other media outlets.

Inq‘s investigation has also been cited in submissions to the disability royal commission and South Australia’s disability safeguarding taskforce. 

A directions hearing for the inquest will be listed in early 2021.

Peter Fray

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